Guest artist explores modes of communication

Paul Karner

Art educator and renowned performance artist Gary Setzer visited the Wriston Art Center this week, giving a lecture Monday and a critique Tuesday in which he gave a detailed – and seemingly unabridged – account of his progression as an artist. From his humble beginnings as a young teen scribbling comic book characters, to large-scale multi-media performances in New York City galleries, Setzer indulged students with his evolving ideas of interpretation and meaning in art. The slides and videos accompanying the presentation depicted the work of an artist intrigued – almost obsessed- with the limitations and hindrances of the human interpretation of art.
Setzer recalled his education at the University of Akron, where he became aware of the struggles inherent in the communication of experience through art, a theme that has persisted throughout his career. Students at the lecture witnessed an artist’s lifelong attempts to confront this dense issue from a number of different angles, each one incorporating different media and ideas in an attempt to bridge the gap between the experience of the audience and that of the artist.
Setzer’s performance art often alludes to a prehistoric, or “pre-linguistic,” stage in human development, in which experiences were understood simply as “raw phenomena.” He spoke of his attempts to counteract the systems and schemas that often govern our interpretation of art and experience.
The pieces Setzer discussed during the presentation all contained a glimpse of the artist’s innate sense of humor. “Life and philosophy are often really dry,” he said. “I try to offer a tasty pill.” The artist light-heartedly explained the difficulties in eating dirt and soap – elements of two of his pieces – and gave a rather scientific analysis of “experiencing” a set of costume bunny ears. But it was his acute aesthetic sense that truly stood out and pervaded all of his works. Clearly drawing from his early years as a painter, Setzer creates environments that are rich in their evocations and warmly compelling in their beauty.
A remarkable theme throughout the lecture was Setzer’s interest in expanding the means through which he reaches his audience. Art professor Joe D’Uva said that, in bringing Setzer to Lawrence, he “wanted students to see how they can take from different aspects of a liberal arts education and apply it very directly to their art.” Setzer spoke of his implementation of math, science, psychology, and philosophy in the construction of his pieces. His installations and performance art have led him to work in depth with film and experimental music.
Setzer is now a faculty member at the Bowling Green State University School of Art, where he and D’Uva first met. The guest artist spent the day after his lecture giving a critique to a handful of willing art students. D’Uva hopes that in working with an artist who deals primarily with performance art, students will continue to branch out to new means of expression.